Obama YAG students spend unforgettable weekend in Harrisburg, have harrowing trip home

Angela Perfetti, for The Eagle

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Twenty five high school students from Obama Academy of International Studies, an I.B. school within Pittsburgh Public Schools, were in a charter bus that was hit on the PA Turnpike while on travels home from Harrisburg after the conclusion of the YMCA Youth and Government model convention in the state capital today. None of the students nor the teacher nor two other adult volunteers were injured in the Sunday evening accident, westbound around Murrysville, mile marker 65. The bus driver as well as the driver of the semi-truck were both unhurt.

The bus and the semi truck carrying new Mercedes sedans bumped sides and scraped together while heading in the same direction. All of the exterior windows along the right side of the bus were broken and shattered, but the glass never reached the interior by the passengers.

Wind seemed to push the truck into the bus through a turn and the driver did a great job to avert a more catastrophic accident,” said Tobias Rather, a junior within the school club. “State police were called and no arrest nor citations were made to our knowledge.”

Traveling on the bus were the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Editor in Chief of Pennsylvania’s Youth Government. All had been just been voted upon and sworn into office just hours prior in the PA State House Chambers. The student delegation had been to a four-day, model-government convention directed by the Pennsylvania YMCA (YAG). YAG brought together more than 400 students from across the state to participate in government events.

Students at YAG run their own government, electing a student Governor, presently Erik Rauterkus (junior from Pittsburgh’s South Side); Lieutenant Governor, Ben Junker (junior from Bloomfield); and Editor in Chief, Anna Vitti (junior from Highland Park). Two other elected officials come from elsewhere in the state: The Speaker of the House is from Hershey and the Chief Justice is from East Shore Y in Harrisburg.

These leaders facilitate YAG members in a year-long quest to write, debate, amend and vote for bills with committee and floor sessions. Bills are signed or vetoed by the Governor. Others win or lose court cases, report on top stories, and lobby for new PA laws. Some YAG legislation has been introduced and passed into real law within Pennsylvania.

YAG has been a well-respected state program for many decades,” said Erik Rauterkus, now the 66th Youth Governor in PA.

The YAG program clearly demonstrated various perceptions among citizens from suburban and rural delegations who have notoriously dominated the events in Harrisburg,” said Matt Lampl, Obama junior, Squirrel Hill.

Only two out of 24 delegations come from within Philadelphia or Pittsburgh city limits. Naturally, the leadership tended to sway toward delegates from rural, rather than urban, areas, as they represented the majority. But the Obama delegation of 2012 made unprecedented impact this year.”

Ours was an amazing feat, sweeping three out of the five main leadership positions,” said Annie Widom, junior, Squirrel Hill. Widom held a lobby position this week at YAG.

Rauterkus claimed the top spot in the election for Governor by besting a veteran YAG member, Erin Agnew, from Springfield, which is also the largest delegation.

The bus crash was the second major crash for Rauterkus this week. Just two days prior to the trip to Harrisburg, Rauterkus, one of the areas top junior competitive cyclists and captain of the school’s swim team, was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital after experiencing a major tumble within a sprint in a race at the Bud Harris Cycling Oval. Suffering from plenty of road rash and soreness, he persevered and still attended the youth leadership event.

Ben Junker, a swimming and waterpolo teammate of Rauterkus, pulled off a similar victory, narrowly beating five other peer members for the role of Lieutenant Governor. One of his duties is to preside over the Senate. Junker also was awarded the Outstanding Senate Committee Chair in the final joint session.

The new Editor-in-chief for YAG, Anna Vitti, was elected to that position by her peers and moved from her role as reporter.

Obama freshman, Rohun Joseph, was the fourth member of the squad who got put onto the YMCA invite list to attend CONA, the USA version for Youth Government. Adult advisers evaluate the students throughout the year and select an all-star cadre of youth leaders to meet for a week in North Carolina in July. Only 26 students in Pennsylvania get that opportunity.

This was the first year of the Obama delegation, as it replaced the recently closed Schenley High School. “The students made a great impression with their skills and leadership abilities, said YMCA Program Director, Adoree DeLuca-Johnson. “They brought the Obama Academy and Pittsburgh names to the state.”

The YAG members were reminded in an opening speech by Governor Tom Corbett, “Youth are the future of this world.” In the closing session, the Lieutenant Governor, Jim Cawley spoke about voting and duties as citizens.

The key role we play in the YAG program may indicate the beginning of better relationship among the urban, suburban and rural areas of our Commonwealth in both policy and politics” said Demetri Lardas, Obama junior, from the Oakland area of Pittsburgh.

James Hill, 2011 Schenley graduate, from Stanton Heights and a former YAG participant said, “I’m thankful that no one was hurt in the bus crash. It must have been an exciting end to an exciting weekend. I’m immensely proud of Erik, Ben, and Anna for making a smash this year. Working with them in the past, I know that they are great kids and that they are going to work hard to make YAG even better next year. I’m very proud that they’re making there own legacy and proving inner city schools have what it takes.”

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